Inside the messy world of Monty Python with conflicts, money problems and a legacy nearly in tatters

Inside the messy world of Monty Python with conflicts, money problems and a legacy nearly in tatters

And now, for something completely different from the lovable sextet (Picture: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Love them or loathe them, Monty Python is up there with the most influential comedy groups in history.

Formed in 1969 by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin, their surrealist brand of comedy cemented their status as trailblazers.

Each of the six founding members became household names, with the Pythons moving quickly from quick sketches to the launch of their wildly successful BBC series Monty Python’s Flying Circus which allowed them full creative control, putting out something weird and wonderful never done before.

Soon after the group moved into the world of film with the release of the 1975 film Holy Grail, often cited as one of the greatest comedy films of all time. It was followed by the 1979 film Life of Brian and 1983’s The Meaning of Life, both revered in their own rights.

As a sextet, the group received the Bafta award for outstanding British contribution to cinema, as well as the AFI Star Award by the American Film Institute. Their influence in comedy has been compared to that of The Beatles in music, and whether you’re familiar with their work or not, you’re sure to know at least one of two quotes through hundreds upon hundreds of references throughout popular culture.

But it’s hard to look on the bright side of life when everything the Pythons worked towards is in jeopardy of being tainted.

Monty Python has left an undeniable legacy since their formation in 1969 (Picture: Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

The award-winning group’s TV shows, films, and random sketches are instantly quotable (Picture: Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)

Despite their popularity, it hasn’t always been plain sailing (Picture: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival)

Throughout their career spanning more than 50 years, the group has been praised for their close-knit friendship which has endured since the Pythons split up for good in 2014.

But this brotherly veneer has been smashed by numerous outbursts from individual members throughout the years which has uncovered feuds between the group’s members

Most recently, Idle, 80, has claimed that the way the group has been managed is ‘a disaster’ and all the associated money had long dried out, while also making it clear that he no longer wishes to maintain a friendship with Cleese, 84.

‘I haven’t seen Cleese for seven years,’ he wrote on X in response to a fan, before writing that it ‘makes him happy’.

Responding to a fan’s question on social media platform X about ‘Spamalot money’ – the successful 2004 musical stage show co-written by Idle and based on the iconic movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail – he wrote: ‘I don’t know why people always assume we’re loaded. Python is a disaster. Spamalot made money 20 years ago.’

‘I have to work for my living. Not easy at this age,’ he added. He continued in a separate post: ‘We own everything we ever made in Python and I never dreamed that at this age the income streams would tail off so disastrously.’

Feuds between the group’s members have become evident across the decades (Picture: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival)

Eric Idle took to X to slam the group’s management and lament his money issues (Picture: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Idle also took a swipe at Gilliam’s daughter Holly has acted in a management role for the group since 2013, co-producing their reunion show Monty Python Live (mostly) – One Down Five to Go at the O2 Arena in 2014.

He jabbed: ‘One Gilliam is bad enough. Two can take out any company.’

Idle’s daughter Lily supported his post, adding he own words: ‘I’m so proud of my dad for finally finally finally starting to share the truth,’ she posted, quoting his tweet.

‘He has always stood up to bullies and narcissists and absolutely deserves reassurance and validation for doing so.’

It’s not the first time Idle has slammed Cleese, calling him an ‘alpha male’ in a 1999 interview and claiming he was ‘happy’ the group had split.

‘I have discovered I really don’t mind doing Monty Python, providing none of the others are around,’ he told The Independent at the time.

The publication of Michael Palin’s, now 80, diaries from 1969 to 1979 also revealed plenty of infighting, often stemming from Cleese’s popularity and the assumption that he was the ‘main man’ of Monty Python.

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John Cleese’s popularity is said to have caused rifts within the group, according to Michael Palin (Picture: Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images)

Palin expressed anger toward Idle in the explosive book, stating that ‘everyone had done the work for him on Monty Python,’ suggesting he was not pulling his weight as the show took off.

As the success of the group grew, so too did the rifts as Palin continued: ‘The split between John and Eric and the rest of us has grown. John and Eric see Monty Python as a means to an end — money to buy freedom from work.

‘Terry is completely the opposite and feels that Python is an end in itself — work which he enjoys doing and which keeps him from the dangerous world of leisure. In between are Graham and myself.’

Palin explained that the making of their hit films did little to stem the clashes within the group: ‘Graham shaking and quivering with suppressed neurotic rage. John and I talked about life. I sympathise quite a lot with his urge to be free of the obligations and responsibilities of the Python group, but I feel that John is still tense and unrelaxed with people, which compounds his problems.’

The diaries also addressed Chapman’s alcoholism, which the comedian struggled with during his studies at Cambridge University as well as the early Python years.

Chapman, who died aged 48 from throat cancer in 1989, became the focus of his own biopic, A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman, released in 2012.

‘Graham was far gone,’ Palin wrote about an incident in 1971. ‘He missed his entrance in Agamemnon twice, made Custard Pie a dull shadow of its former self, and slowed down many a sketch.”

Graham Chapman’s alcoholism is reported to have caused issues within the group before his death in 1989 (Picture: Ben Martin/Getty Images)

Their success did not stop personalities clashing within Monty Python (Picture: Mike Coppola/FilmMagic)

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‘Graham and Eric reached a point of explosion and Eric threw down his napkin with a rather impetuous flourish and left the restaurant. Later, Graham, Eric and John had “full and frank discussions”,’ he added, speaking about a meal the group had after the Southampton performance.

These revelations have tainted the pristine image of friendship and camaraderie that has always surrounded Monty Python, but it isn’t the only controversy the group has faced.

Nor is it the first time money has proved an issue for the comedians after the group was embroiled in High Court battle over royalties for their spin-off show Spamalot.

In 2013, Holy Grail producer Mark Forstater claimed as entitled to a share in 50% of all merchandising and spin-off, with Mr Justice Norris accepting Forstater’s claim that he was entitled to one-seventh, the same proportion as the members of the Pythons.

As for their content itself, the Pythons often found their comedy sketches hit with complaints and even bans.

When releasing their 1980 Contractual Obligation Album, the Independent Television CompaniesAssociation blocked it from being advertised on TV, labelling the group ‘crude in the extreme’ – which of course became their slogan in print ads.

The group’s most notorious controversy came with the release of Life of Brian, which follows: ‘A young man, Brian, who was born one stable down and on the same night as Jesus, becomes intrigued by a young rebel, Judith,’ according to its synopsis.

Life Of Brian caused immediate uproar (Picture: Evening Standard/Getty Images/Getty Images)

It was immediately labelled blasphemous, both for its portrayal of Christianity as well as its shocking final scenes which see Brian crucified, something many said ‘mocked Jesus’ suffering’.

It was banned in Norway, Ireland, and screenings were stopped in some parts of the UK, and the filmcontinues to cause controversy due to its themes today as well as trans jokes that have become subject to furious debates.

Cleese claimed that the BBC refused to show Monty Python content, posting on X: ‘Can anyone (including BBC employees) tell me why the BBC has not shown Monty Python for a couple of decades?’

But fans quickly pointed out that the BBC did not own the rights, and would be sued.

Cleese himself has become a controversial character in the wake of Monty Python’s success, frequently shouting into the void about ‘woke culture’ and ‘political correctness’.

He faced backlash for his mock apology in the wake of Hank Azaria addressing the controversy he caused voicing The Simpsons character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon.

While many have commended Azaria for apologising, Cleese called the apology ‘posturing idiocy’ and shared a mocking apology for Monty Python sketches ‘making fun of white English people’.

Cleese has become a figure of controversy outside of Monty Python (Picture: Don Smith/Radio Times via Getty Images)

He has frequently spoken out about what he perceived to be ‘woke comedy’ (Picture: Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock)

The comedian tweeted: ‘Not wishing to be left behind by Hank Azaria, I would like to apologise on behalf on Monty Python for all the many sketches we did making fun of white English people.

‘We’re sorry for any distress we may have caused.’

Cleese continued to blast ‘wokeism’ on Twitter, after a follower tweeted: ‘Man, that #wokeism is going too far imo acting like the ministry of good taste and censorship and lacking a decent sense of humour.’

He wrote: ‘Started out as a good idea – Let’s be nice to people’ – and finished up as a humorless, censorious, literal-minded, posturing idiocy.’

Cleese also weighed into the transgender row surrounding Life Of Brian, refusing to cut a scene from the stage adaptation which sees a character played by Idle asking to be called Loretta and expressing their wishes to have a child, which is branded ‘ridiculous’.

He isn’t the only Python to find himself embroiled in personal controversies, tainting the memory of Monty Python by association.

Brazil and 12 Monkeys director Gilliam, 83, was slammed for comments he made about the MeToo movement online, branding it a ‘witch hunt’ and ‘ugly and simplistic,’ saying we live in ‘a world of victims’ and disgustingly claiming that some victims of Harvey Weinstein ‘knew what they were doing.’

Terry Gilliam’s online comments have also seen the director ridiculed (Picture: Dave Hogan/Hogan Media/REX/Shutterstock)

Gilliam. who once referred to himself as a ‘black lesbian’ in an attempt at a joke, also claimed he was ‘cancelled’ after recommending controversial comedian Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special to others.

He stated that London’s Old Vic Theatre cancelled one of his shows back in 2021 after being ‘intimidated by a small group of closed-minded, humour-averse ideologues.’

Writing on Facebook at the time, he said: ‘It is very sad that a great cultural institution like the Old Vic allowed itself to be intimidated into cancelling our production of Into The Woods by a small group of closed-minded, humour-averse ideologues on their staff who absurdly call themselves “The Old Vic 12” as if they are victims of some cruel injustice desperately fighting for their freedom.’

‘Freedom of speech is often attacked. But I never imagined that freedom of recommendation would be under threat as well.’

Idle, however, took a swipe at Chappelle while addressing cancel culture in the same year, telling the On with Kara Swisher podcast: ‘Where does he say it? On SNL… well you’re not being that much cancelled, are you?

‘If you were in your room complaining. I’d have a lot more sympathy.’

Between feuds, private and very public meltdowns, financial troubles, and mounting controversies, the fun-loving legacy of Monty Python could find itself mired in darkness.

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